Law Faculty Connecting with Students Professors Kish Parella and Jill Fraley talk virtual book clubs and happy hours.
Professor Kish Parella never held weekly happy hours before the pandemic. With 40 students in her 1L classes, organizing for that kind of in-person event would be daunting.
“These kinds of interactions are enabled now because of Zoom,” she explained. “There’s no cost, and it is low key.”
The happy hour group has instituted rules. “We don’t talk about work,” Parella said. “We don’t talk about Contracts.”
Instead, they often start the hour off with an ice breaker. “What’s the most outrageous food you’ve eaten?” Parella asked, by way of example. “And I’ve been thinking about inviting students to bring to happy hour something that’s uplifting,” she added. “They could play music or read a poem.”
The attendees are mostly past students of Parella’s, and usually 12 to 20 join at a time.
“Before and after class I would interact with students—and that’s basically gone now,” she explained. “There’s something really helpful about connecting with students when you’re not teaching—virtual and not virtual.”
Professor Jill Fraley agreed. She said that, before the pandemic, she would connect with students by arranging regular walks on the Chessie or Back Campus trails. Other times she would bake cookies and then invite students to drop by for “salon” hours, where they could discuss the class material in a low-pressure environment.
Now that these kinds of events aren’t an option, Fraley has started a virtual book club for her current property law students.
“In property law, we read some cases that deal with race and property and talk about issues like restrictive covenants,” she explained. “But I wanted to have an opportunity to also read some literature, or non-law books, about the important relationship between race and property in land.”
She added that, for 1Ls struggling to get to know each other during the pandemic, an interest group is a “good way to foster connections.”
Fraley picked two books that, while easy to read alongside difficult homework material, “are also important parts of Black literature in America.” The first focuses on the body as property, and the second focuses on the importance of land resources for Black families.
These are just two examples of faculty hosting virtual events. Parella said that many other professors at W&L Law are finding creative ways to connect with their students outside of the classroom, whether it’s through book clubs, discussion groups, happy hours, or otherwise.
Last semester, Parella hosted a baking class via Zoom, where she imparted wisdom about “the ratio of frosting to cupcake—I think that the best cupcakes really let the cake shine.”
“This is an opportunity for faculty members to share their passions or hobbies,” she continued. “There’s potential for this to continue even after the pandemic.”
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